Continuing our detailed coverage of the Star Trek Universe panel at San Diego Comic-Con, we turn to the biggest part, which focused on the upcoming series Star Trek: Picard. Yesterday we reported some highlights along with the new Star Trek Picard trailer, but the panel had more details and fun moments with Sir Patrick Stewart, the producers, and new cast and surprise guest stars Jeri Ryan, Brent Spiner, and Jonathan Del Arco.
Patrick Stewart’s FOMO lead to Picard, works closely with writers
Sir Patrick Stewart was greeted by the capacity Hall H crowd like a rock star. After apologizing he couldn’t bring the dog from Star Trek: Picard (named “Number One,” real name Dinero), he spoke about why, after years of saying no to return to the role he last played in 2002 (Star Trek Nemesis), he finally said yes. The actor noted it was partially due to a fear of missing out on what the creative team had in mind:
As the subject matter of this new series became clearer and clearer to me and I began to meet our incredibly distinguished writing team and to attend the sessions with them, I knew that something unusual was going to happen and I wanted to be part of it. To imagine something like this might go ahead and I wouldn’t be there would have been too defeatist, and I am very, very happy to be here.
During the panel, executive producer and showrunner Michael Chabon discussed how he and the creative team work closely with Stewart (who is also an executive producer):
Patrick has been a collaborator with the writers from the beginning, but it didn’t just stop in the early days when we were just trying to figure the show out, and it didn’t stop with subsequent later moments in the writer room when Patrick came and helped us critique and review and shape the story, it is an ongoing collaboration. I have learned to trust Patrick’s judgment of the character of Jean-Luc Picard on a daily basis, on a line-by-line basis sometimes, implicitly.
Executive producer Heather Kadin also chimed in:
We all watched [Star Trek: The Next Generation] and have our opinion of what was happening in the show, but Patrick obviously had lived it from the inside out. Having him to bring his perspective to what Jean-Luc would do or not do or what would he like to see as an evolution of this character, that was invaluable. Not only did he not want to do what he had done on TNG, we and he did not want to do what we had done on Discovery. I feel that the world we have painted there is very specific and is unique to that. Hopefully, everyone is going to watch and read what Kirsten [Beyer], Akiva [Goldsman], Michael [Chabon], and Alex [Kurtzman] are writing and feel this is it’s own more lyrical, more grounded, more dramatic at times piece, and respect it as its own thing.
A “new kind of Star Trek show”
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman outlined that since its conception, Picard was envisioned as something different that Star Trek: Discovery and other Star Trek shows:
[Picard] is entirely different [than Discovery and other Trek shows]. It all started with Patrick, actually. When we went to him he was reticent for all the right reasons, mostly because he didn’t want to repeat what he had already done, which he had done perfectly, so why do that again? We had several conversations and he really challenged us, challenged us beautifully. It forced us to think outside the box and yet it also forced is to look at what is important about the box as it existed for people who loved Next Gen. What is it about this great captain that people loved so much? So, Kirsten [Beyer], and Michael [Chabon], and Akiva [Goldsman], and Patrick, and James Duff all sat down we asked lots of what Trek meant to each of us and what Trek meant to Patrick and from that, these really interesting storylines began to emerge about Picard.
Executive producer Akiva Goldsman also weighed in on how
We pointedly wanted to not make a sequel to Next Gen. Tonally it is a little bit of a hybrid. You will see it is slower, more gentle, more lyrical. It is certainly more character-based. It also takes on the same thing The Original Series took on, that Next Gen took on, that Discovery takes on, which is a hope for a future that is many ways better than the world we live in today. Star Trek remains aspirational. What we get to do, which DS9 got to do a little bit and Discovery got to do, is tell serialized stories and in serialized storytelling the characters can evolve in a way that makes it unique. So, we think it is a new kind of Star Trek show made by a lot of people who love the old kinds of Star Trek shows.
Picard still represents the best ideals but is facing darker times
There wasn’t a lot to say about the plot for the new show, but Kurtzman did talk about where Picard is in his life:
Picard is at a point where he is questioning many of the choices he has made, but he is also very certain about many of the choices he has made. I think it has allowed us to shake the character up in ways that give you new things to play, while also honoring and respecting everything that has been done, so well.
Alex also discussed how this fit with Picard as the “philosopher captain”:
Picard represents the ideal captain, not just as a philosopher, but as a human being, who thinks first and foremost about the human spirit and its consequences over time. The choices that he makes are not just choices he makes in a vacuum. He is the leader we all want, and boy do we need that now more than ever…Every line that Picard says has to represent a philosophy and an ideal and idealism.
Kurtzman also detailed how the new show will differ (and not differ) from Star Trek: The Next Generation:
TNG reflected – I guess – a more innocent time. It was telling great stories and complicated stories and modern parables. But we live in a much, much more complicated and darker time now. And Trek at its best has always been a mirror that has reflected the world that we live in. So, Picard, I think in the best way, is the one who is still standing up for what matters. He is still standing up for the ideals that we believe in. Age has not changed his resolve, it has just changed the circumstances of his life. This is being made by people who love TNG. We are not seeking to reinvent it. We are not seeking to say ours is better or we are doing the dark version of TNG. None of that is true. But Picard has to soul search, and to soul search you need a dark night of the soul to come out the other side lighter and brighter. And in order to make the world brighter, he has to face that part of himself. He is still fighting for all the things he would have fought for in TNG, but because the circumstances of his life have changed, he doesn’t have the same resources. So, he has to dig even deeper into himself in order to get there. And I think why he remains such and aspiration and amazing captain. Because we all want to believe that the best part of us would emerge, and that is Jean-Luc Picard.
Spiner, Ryan, and Del Arco are as surprised as fans to be part of ‘Picard’
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Star Trek: Picard trailer released on Saturday was the appearance of two Trek veterans: Brent Spiner (confirmed to be playing Data) and Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine). They both made a surprise guest appearance, joining the panel after the trailer was shown, along with Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh).
When asked what it was like to be a part of Star Trek again, in his usual fashion Spiner started off joking, by saying:
When I first heard there was going to be this Star Trek: Picard I called the producers and said: do you have anybody for the role of Picard yet? And they hung up on me. I spoke to Patrick and he said there was a possibility, and would you think about coming on the show in some way, appearing on the show. And I said I don’t think I can do that, and he started crying, and I couldn’t take it.
But then he got serious and told the actual story:
I spoke to the powers that be on this show – it is an incredible bunch of writers and producers. The possibility of standing next to Patrick on a set again was just more than I could say no to. And I had to consider the fans as well. To think that this was going to happen and there was a possibility that I might be there, there was no way I could refuse that. So, here we are.
Jeri Ryan talked about how she never thought it would happen until it did:
Over a year ago sitting at the Hollywood Bowl, I was with Johnny [Del Arco] and one of the creators, who is a good friend of ours as well, and he – after about four glasses of champagne – decided that would be a good time to bring it up. He said, “Here is what I am thinking.” And I said that could be fun, but didn’t think anything was going to come of it. And then I kept hearing it from other creatives from the show over the course of the year and I was mentioned again and I thought it was cool, but never thought it was going to happen. And then cut to here we are. It is pretty surreal.
Jonathan Del Arco shared Ryan’s skepticism and also needed some persuasion from her to prepare for his Borg makeup:
My experience was the same [as Jeri]. We are buds, and the Borg share everything. It’s a collective! That conversation began and we were like: is it going to happen? Cut to the realization that it was going to happen and that I would have to have a life-mask, which is basically poured cement onto your face. And I said to Jeri: I can’t do it. I can’t do the job. I can’t do the life mask, because I am majorly claustrophobic. She said: honey, take a pill and I’ll drive you. And she stayed with me for five hours like a mama Borg and made sure I was all right. It was 100% worth it. We can’t talk about the design of the makeup but James McKinnon who is the head makeup artist and was just nominated for an Emmy [for Discovery]. So, we did it. It happened, but I didn’t believe it until I was on set, to be honest. Oh my god. Getting to work with Patrick again, that was worth the life mask.
Stewart’s Trek veteran joy will soon include Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis
Patrick Stewart talked about what it is like to have these Trek veterans return:
You have got to get your laughing gear in place, that is for sure. We have more fun than should really be allowed in a really expensive series.
Chabon confirmed what Patrick had to say and revealed there are more vets coming to guest star this week:
Having observed it, the joy on Patrick’s face on the days we have had returning cast members and in particular someone who is part of Star Trek: Picard not only having directed two episodes, but will be returning along with Marina Sirtis, who is Jonathan Frakes. And seeing Jonathan and Patrick together, I would go to the set just so I could see the smiles on their faces, and the fun. Jonathan Frakes brings joy and light wherever he goes, but it seemed to me Patrick that you seemed so filled with joy.
New cast introduces themselves and their characters
Joining Sir Patrick Stewart for Star Trek: Picard is an entirely new cast of series regulars. And while Sir Patrick made it clear he loves having his old friends drop by, he has been impressed with how fast his new cast has developed chemistry:
Yes, everything that Michael has said [about Trek vets on set] is true. When I come face to face with Brent, with Jeri, with Jonathan and it will be very soon again with Jonathan and Marina as well. But, we have here sitting [indicates the new cast] a new team, a new crew if you like, in the sense of a cast in this show. I am astonished and grateful for the speed with which this has become a team, a cohesive unit working together. I thought it would take the whole of the first season and we still have about three episodes to go and we are already cemented together. That makes me happy and proud.
Showrunner Michael Chabon spoke briefly about the challenge of casting for the show, saying:
We knew we had to have a cast that was worthy of and could stand up to an actor as incredibly gifted as Patrick Stewart, and we got that.
The members of the cast were under strict limits as to what they could say about their roles but some did offer some insights. Here is what they had to say…
Alison Pill (Dr. Agnes Jurati):
I’m a researcher…I get to play somebody who is deeply confused as to her place in the world who has been dreaming of something happening forever and has been treading water for a long time waiting for it. I think the really interesting thing about this cast as a whole is everyone is broken in terms of their character, in very interesting ways and different to a lot of what we have seen. It’s just a lot of lonely sad sacks.
Michelle Hurd (Raffi Musiker):
Raffi is a delicious character to bring to life. She has a previously unrelated relationship with part of Picard’s past. She too struggles with some demons. I think that is one of the things that is so excited and delicious about working on this project, it is so layered. There is so much to jump into.
Santiago Cabrera (Cristobal ‘Chris’ Rios):
I play Chris Rios who is ex-Starfleet and also someone with some inner demons. Something in his past has created a hard shell around this man. Hence, he is quite reluctant to help Picard when he meets him.
Isa Briones (Dahj):
[Dahj] is a young woman entering a very new and exciting chapter of her life, yet a horrible tragedy strikes in her life. And that is what send her on a journey to find Picard looking for answers and looking for help.
The final two cast members on stage didn’t actually talk about their roles but did talk about their connections to Star Trek…
Evan Evangora (Elnor):
I watched Star Trek from such a young age. To meet Patrick and work with one of your idols on a daily basis is absolutely incredible. I wake up every day happy going to work, and I leave happy. Thank you for the opportunity and it has been a pleasure working with you Patrick.
Harry Treadaway (Narek):
My best friend who I went with after school every night, his dad was a massive Trekkie and had every episode on VHS…So, yes [I know Star Trek].
Watch Stewart choke up talking about shooting last TNG scene
During the Q&A portion of the panel, Patrick Stewart had any enduring memories of his time on Star Trek: The Next Generation and he got emotional recalling his final scene with Jonathan Frakes during the shooting of Star Trek Nemesis. You can watch the moment below in a video released by CBS.
CBS has also released the full video for the Picard panel, which you can watch on YouTube.
Watch new cast talk characters and Chabon
CBS also released some quick videos talking to the cast backstage at SDCC, including one where they talk about their new characters.
They also talk about what it is like to work with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and big Trekkie Michael Chabon.
Watch the SDCC trailer for ‘Picard’
In case you missed it, here is the trailer again. Versions for the USA, Canada, and the rest of the world are below.
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More SDCC 2019
Check out the rest of our San Diego Comic-Con 2019 coverage, and stay tuned to TrekMovie for more from the Star Trek Universe panel and beyond.